Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The delusion of pure Englishness

The rise of hate-fuelled Facebook pages like Britain First and the sheer number of extreme-right ranters who see any online discussion thread as a suitable vessel in which to spew their noxious anti-immigrant bile makes it seem that Britain is becoming a more intolerant place, where people like racists, fascists and xenophobes feel ever more empowered to spread their hateful ideas.

An awful lot of the people who hold these extreme-right views seem completely impervious to stuff like facts, logic or critical analysis, thus simplistic tropes like "close the borders" or "send them back to where they came from" become their easy answers to all of societies' ills.

Stupid policies

Take Britain First's proposal that the word "racism" be completely banned from the English language. Not only is the idea of completely banning a word bizarrely impractical, it also reveals a severe authoritarian streak. These people are so dictatorial that they want to control people's thoughts and ideas by restructuring the English language to proscribe any term that could be used to criticise their own ideology.

Their thinking is that if people accuse them of being racist, they can solve the problem by banning the word racism! Thus, if anyone accuses them of being corrupt, incompetent or fascistic, they will simply ban the words "corruption", "incompetence" and "fascism" too. 

The idea of a fascistic political party attempting to ban words from the English language is like some kind of George Orwell inspired satire, except that it's not a satire, it's a real ideology that well over a million people follow on Facebook!

Pure Englishness

It's not just the policies of the extreme-right that are laughably incoherent, a lot of their ideology is nonsensical crackpottery too. This article is about the ludicrous extreme-right concept of "pure Englishness".

In one discussion on the Another Angry Voice Facebook page someone made the point that there is no such thing as "pure Englishness", because if any English person looks far enough back in their ancestry, they're going to find an immigrant in there somewhere. Maybe an Irish migrant worker, a French Hugenot, a Norman lord, a Viking warrior or someone from some part of the Roman empire.

I thought that pointing out the fiction of "pure Englishness" was a good point to make, but a counter-argument was raised by a "Pure English" ultra-nationalist. This was his argument:

"I checked my family tree. I am english. Pure english. My family were here before the nation state of england existed as were many other families."
This might seem like a fair claim on the face of it, since there were indeed many English families living in England in the 10th Century (when the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms unified into the kingdom of England), however the slightest amount of sensible consideration shows this statement up as utterly delusional nonsense.

Any genealogist will tell you that the further back you go, the harder it is to find all of your ancestors, because the number of them doubles with every generation. We have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, sixteen great great grandparents and onwards in an exponential growth pattern.

If we add the generations together we get this sequence:

1 generation (parents) = 2
2 generations (parents + grandparents) = 6
3 generations (parents + grandparents + great grandparents) = 14

4 generations (parents + grandparents + great grandparents + g. g. grandparents) = 30

The formula for this progression is x = 2n+1 - 2 with n being the number of generations and x being the total number of ancestors to be checked for Englishness.

It's difficult to know how many generations to go back to measure this claim of pure Englishness from "before England existed as a nation state", but since the Kingdom of England came into existence in the 10th Century, 1,000 years seems a fair estimate. Genealogists tend to use 20 years for a familial generation for historical periods, and 25 years for the modern era, so a claim to be "pure English" since the 10th Century suggests that something like 50 generations must have been thoroughly checked.

If we put the number 50 into our genealogy equation it turns out that our right-wing "pure English" fellow is claiming to have checked somewhere in the region of 2,251,799,813,685,246 ancestral connections and found them all to have been English born. The idea that our "Pure English" right-wing nationalist has checked all of two quadrillion ancestral connections and found every single one of them to be English is utterly absurd. If he spent just one second checking each of his two and a quarter quadrillion ancestral connections for Englishness (without any breaks for sleeping or eating), the task would have taken him 71,404,103 years to complete!

What our "pure English" nationalist is expecting us to believe is that he has spent millions of years checking all of his quadrillions of ancestral connections, and that every single one of them was English born!

Even if we let him off with such an obvious exaggeration, and reduce the magnitude of the task from fifty generations to just ten generations, that still leaves a huge number of people to be checked for Englishness (2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 128 + 256 + 512 + 1,024). So in order to prove that you're "pure English" for ten generations, you'd have to research 2,046 ancestral connections and find conclusive proof that every single one of them was English born.

Extreme xenophobia

One branch of my family tree has been traced back for hundreds of years to a small village in Yorkshire. I was also born in Yorkshire, so I feel like if anywhere is my home region, it is Yorkshire.

On the other hand it doesn't take me many generations at all to find ancestors who were born outside of Yorkshire, and outside of the United Kingdom for that matter.

Does the existence of non-Yorkshire ancestors make me any less of a Yorkshireman? Of course it doesn't.

The only way it could ever make a difference is if I was such a xenophobic nationalist that I loathed myself for the fact that some of my ancestors were born overseas, rather than being fascinated, as I am, by my family heritage.


The idea of ethnic purity is absurd enough in its own right, but the idea of ethnically pure Englishness is staggeringly delusional given that the English people derived from a mix of various pre-Roman cultures, people from all over the vast Roman empire, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings, Normans and countless other waves of migration.

I pity anyone who is xenophobic enough to think that "pure Englishness" is a trait to be proud of, and delusional enough to think that it's even possible to prove "pure Englishness" beyond a few generations.

It's easy to feel sorry for people who suffer this kind of warped xenophobic delusion of their "pure Englishness" on an individual basis, but as George Carlin once said, it's important to "never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups".

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.

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Britain First's exceptionally ignorant brand of nationalism

Thursday, February 4, 2016

David Cameron's smoke and mirrors EU "renegotiation"

On Wednesday the 3rd of February 2016 there was a parliamentary debate on David Cameron's so-called "renogotiation" with the EU. One of the remarkable things about it was that 23 critical questions and interventions came from David Cameron's own MPs. Before I get to that extraordinary set of affairs I'm going to go through a few of the reasons that David Cameron's so-called "renegotiation" is an absolute load of rubbish.

Out of work benefits for migrants

One of David Cameron's main cited victories in his so-called "renegotiation" was the fact that EU migrant workers would no longer be able to come to the UK and claim out-of-work benefits.

The problem with this claimed victory is that it is nothing of the sort. Other EU nations like Spain have a requirement that EU migrants work at least six months in order to receive out-of-work benefits. They run a system like this without having sought special dispensation from the EU. If other countries can run such a system without "renegotiation" it's pretty damned clear that the idea that the EU was forcing the UK to pay out-of-work benefits to new migrants is nothing more than a convenient fiction for David Cameron.

Pretending that he's won some great victory by stopping EU migrants from immediately claiming out-of-work benefits is nothing but an illusory victory.

Economic apartheid

One of David Cameron's other demands from the EU is the setting up of a system of economic apartheid against EU migrants by denying them access to in-work benefits.

The existence of in-work benefits like Tax Credits have allowed corporations to get away with paying below-subsistence wages, safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer will cover the shortfall (that many of these Tax Credit reliant corporations are industrial scale tax-dodgers makes the situation even more infuriating). Thus employers paying pitiful poverty wages is completely normal in modern Britain.

If David Cameron gets his way, migrant workers from the EU (and their families) will end up living in below-subsistence poverty because of the poverty wages paid by so many companies in the UK. If you're vindictive enough to be fine with working people living in poverty just because of their nationality, it's worth considering that returning UK migrants will also be caught up in this economic apartheid system too. If you have the temerity to pursue your career elsewhere in Europe for a while, you can expect to be economically sanctioned by David Cameron and the Tories when you get back to the UK.

David Cameron and the Tories have presented no evidence that slashing in-work benefits for working migrants would even cut migration to the UK, and the proposal contains no impact assessment on factors like increased child poverty. All it is is a sop to the extreme-right.

An additional factor to consider is the likelihood of tit-for-tat retribution by other EU states against British migrants. If the UK consider it fair to impose a system of economic apartheid against migrants from other EU countries, then why shouldn't other EU countries introduce systems of economic apartheid against British citizens working in their countries?

Nothing about the real problems with the EU

David Cameron's so-called "renegotiation" focuses on a number of periphery issues while completely ignoring some of the things that are seriously wrong with the EU.

One way in which the EU seriously interferes with the UK economy is EU's Competition Laws that prevent member states from using not-for-profit public institutions to run infrastructure projects. If any UK government ever wanted to do as the overwhelming majority of the electorate want them to and renationalise the rail network, the UK energy infrastructure and the parts of the NHS the Tories have been selling off, then the EU would go into attack mode.

Of course David Cameron and the Tories don't give a damn about protecting the UK's right to run its own services. Such a right for a country to run its own services is entirely contrary to their ideology of transferring as much public property as possible to private interests at bargain basement prices. It suits the Tories perfectly that EU law prevents future governments from undoing the appalling ideological damage they're currently doing.

Another huge problem with the EU is the way they are pushing ahead with the secretive TTIP corporate power grab. This so-called "trade deal" will allow multinational corporations to completely bypass Britain's democratic and judicial institutions in order to sue the UK for damages in secretive unaccountable transnational tribunals. David Cameron and the conservatives are some of the most vociferous supporters of the TTIP corporate power grab in the entire EU!

The fact that David Cameron and the Tories support the TTIP corporate power grab makes an absolute mockery of David Cameron's claims that he's going to put British sovereignty "beyond doubt"

Nothing about the real problems with the UK either!

David Cameron has made "benefits to migrants from the EU" the absolute centrepiece of his so-called "renegotiation". There are of course legitimate issues relating to social security payments to migrants, but anyone who considers them to be the most pressing issue in contemporary Britain must have some catastrophically warped sense of scale. Issues that are of much more pressing importance include:
  • Tax-dodging: UK expenditure on all social security payments to EU migrants is an insignificantly tiny drop in a vast ocean compared to stuff like the enormous scale of corporate tax-dodging (that completely dwarfs the cost of the entire welfare system).
  • Housing: Another blatantly unsustainable housing bubble is being inflated by the banks in a way that suggests the only lesson the banks learned from the last crisis was that they can gamble as recklessly as they like, completely safe in the knowledge that the government will step in and bail them out with taxpayers' cash when they go bust like they did last time (moral hazard).
  • The balance of trade: As a measure of economic health the balance of trade has gone deeply out of fashion. The best explanation for this change is that for decades the UK has been running vast trade deficits (importing way more than we export), so successive governments have had plenty of incentive to prioritise other economic indicators that are not so unrelentingly negative.
David Cameron's "renegotiation" with the EU does absolutely nothing to address any of these vitally important issues. Instead it focuses on superficial issues like David Cameron's desire to present imaginary victories and impose economic apartheid on EU workers in order to appeal to the extreme-right fringe.
Making the EU worse

Several of David Cameron's proposals (like his economic apartheid scheme for migrant workers) will make the EU even worse than it already is.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the voting records of Tory MEPs. Tory MEPs have repeatedly voted against EU measures to clamp down on serious problems like multinational tax-dodging and the dangerous excesses of European banks, and now they're lobbying the EU to stop taking action against the tax havens like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands that suck so much wealth out of the EU economy.

The Tories are absolutely intent on protecting the interests of their financial backers (bankers, private health corporations, tax-dodgers, the inherited wealth aristocracy, the idle rentier class) above all other considerations, and their appalling interventions in the EU have proven this over and again. 

Mainstream media complicity
One of the most astonishing things about the "renegotiation" debate was the fact that 23 of David Cameron's own MPs made critical interventions about his so-called "renegotiation".

Just think of garish front page splashes every time Jeremy Corbyn comes under attack from some hopelessly discredited Blairite non-entity like Peter Mandelson or John McTernan (the Labour "strategist" who oversaw Labour losing 40 of their 41 seats in Scotland).  Yet 23 of David Cameron's own MPs standing up in the House of Commons to have a go at him barely even registers as news for some reason?

Just think back to the end of John Major's time as Prime Minister and all of the headlines about how the Tory party were hopelessly divided over Europe and the criticisms of his failure of leadership. Nothing has changed other than the fact that Tory divisions over Europe are even more serious now in light of the forthcoming In-Out referendum, yet the mainstream media just seem to give David Cameron a free pass on the divisions in his own party.


David Cameron's so-called "renegotiation" is an absolute shambles. Some of the stuff he is negotiating for is simply a smokescreen, other things he's negotiating for will create economic apartheid in the UK and likely cause tit-for-tat retribution against British migrant workers elsewhere in the EU.

The fiction that David Cameron is protecting British sovereignty is catastrophically undermined by the fervent Tory support for the TTIP corporate power grab. How is it even remotely possible to claim to be putting British sovereignty "beyond doubt" whilst simultaneously supporting a plan designed to completely over-write British sovereignty with legislation to elevate multinational corporations above the constraints of our parliamentary and judicial institutions?

The purpose of David Cameron's so-called "renegotiation" seems to be the realpolitik of trying to appease Tory backbenchers and the right-wing press, rather than addressing any serious 
structural problems within the EU, or within the UK economy either for that matter.

Nobody on either side of the In-Out debate should be taken in by David Cameron's pathetic posturing, but unfortunately many will be if the pro-Tory press begin trumpeting Cameron's "renegotiation" as a wonderful success, when the slightest critical analysis reveals it to be the usual Tory smoke and mirrors game.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.

Austerity is a con
The "bankrupt Britain" lie
The lamentable decline in the standard of public debate
How the mainstream media frame the political debate
The Tory ideological mission
Margaret Thatcher's toxic neoliberal legacies

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The "bankrupt Britain" lie

Some political myths are more believable than others. Some of them contain grains of truth, or perverse elements of pseudo-logic that seem to make sense when considered in isolation. Other political myths are pure unadulterated rubbish, that nobody should be falling for them. Claims that the UK has been "bankrupted" are amongst this class of political fallacy that even the most dedicated tabloid rote-learner should be able to see through given the slightest amount of actual consideration.

Outright lies

Claims that the Labour Party are to blame for the 2007-08 global financial sector insolvency crisis are spurious enough as they are, but they are at least underpinned by some kind of simplistic pseudo-logical argument (the crisis happened on Labour's watch, therefore it must have been Labour's fault), so it's unsurprising that some simple-minded people fall for it*.

Claims that the UK economy have been bankrupted at any point in the recent past don't have any pseudo-logical foundation whatever. They're just lies. Easily disprovable lies.

The definition of the word bankrupt is "a person or organisation adjudged insolvent by a court, his or her property being transferred to a trustee and administered for the benefit of his creditors". Anyone who thinks that the UK has recently been declared insolvent by any court is living in absolute fantasy land.

If you're not convinced, think about this: If the UK economy has been declared bankrupt, then how is it possible that the UK has been benefiting from the lowest government borrowing costs in history since 2009? Isn't it normally the case that lending institutions are reluctant to lend to recently bankrupted entities, rather than lending to them at the lowest interest rates in history?

David Cameron

"The last Labour Government ... crashed the economy; they bust the banks** ... and they bankrupted this country." - David Cameron, October 16th 2013, House of Commons

It's bad enough that tabloid propagandists use the "bankrupt Britain" lie to push the "blame Labour for everything" narrative. That the Prime Minister openly uses the "bankrupt Britain" lie in the Houses of Parliament (and gets away with it without a word of condemnation from the mainstream press or the parliamentary authorities) is utterly appalling***.

That the Prime Minister of the UK is allowed to lie to parliament (and the public) with absolute impunity is yet another damning demonstration of the lamentable decline in the standard of public debate.

No excuses

There is no excuse for anyone who knows anything at all about economics, or who has the slightest regard for the truth or honesty in debate, to make claims that the UK economy has been bankrupted.

At absolute best it is a display of abhorrent ignorance about the state of the UK economy and the meaning of the word "bankrupt".

Assuming that the person claiming "bankrupt Britain" is not absolved by virtue of their appalling ignorance, there's only one other explanation: that they know perfectly well that what they are saying is untrue, but they're saying it anyway because they believe that you are thick enough to believe it.

There is absolutely no excuse for anyone to use the"bankrupt Britain" lie. Either they're making a crystal clear demonstration that they themselves are an economically illiterate idiot. Otherwise they know perfectly well that it's a barefaced lie, but they're making the assumption that whoever is listening to them is an economically illiterate idiot.


The "bankrupt Britain" lie is a lamentable debating tactic, but it does serve one very useful purpose. It serves as an incredibly clear marker that whoever just uttered it is either a spectacularly gullible idiot, or a dishonest person who knows that it's pure bullshit, but they're saying it to you anyway because they are openly taking you for a spectacularly gullible idiot.

If you ever hear anyone use the "bankrupt Britain" lie, it's a sure sign that you should disregard their political opinions. After all, who would listen to the political opinions of someone who has just proven themselves to be either an idiot or a deliberate liar?

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.


* Oddly most of the people who do fall for the "blame Labour" myth are also the kind of right-wing tabloid rote-learners who have been indoctrinated into believing in the personal responsibility myth, which is the myth that everyone should take responsibility for their own lives and not blame the Tory government for things unemployment or low wages. When it comes to a pack of reckless bankers trashing the global economy though, tabloid rote-learners use their complete immunity to cognitive dissonance to maintain the illusion that the bankers bore no responsibility for the crisis they caused, and that instead it was entirely the Labour government's fault!

** It's worth noting the way David Cameron casually offloads all responsibility from the bankers for busting their own institutions in order to score cheap political points against the Labour Party. According to Cameron's bizarre interpretation of events, the bankers were merely passive victims in the financial sector meltdown, with the government of the day taking full responsibility for the failure of these private institutions!

*** For a longer and more detailed examination of David Cameron's "bankrupt Britain" lie, here's a previous AAV article on the subject.

More articles from
The lamentable decline in the standard of public debate
Asset stripping "bankrupt Britain"
The Tory ideological mission
Austerity is a con
The Tory "economic recovery" is a lie
The fiction of NHS inefficiency

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The gay cake row

In May 2014 Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland cancelled an order placed by a gay customer because they didn't want to decorate a cake with the slogan "support gay marriage" due to their Christian religious beliefs. In May 2015 Belfast County Court ruled that the owners of the bakery were guilty of discrimination and fined them £500. In February 2016 an appeal against the ruling will be heard in the Court of Appeals.

In this article I'm going to examine some of the fundamentally important ethical issues at stake, in what may seem to many to be quite a trivial legal case. 

Freedom of conscience

Shortly before the Appeal Court case Peter Tatchell (one of the most high profile gay rights activists in the UK) wrote an article explaining his change of mind over the gay cake row. In the article he explained how he had previously supported the decision to find the bakery guilty of discrimination, but upon further reflection he'd come to realise that the ruling has some very illiberal implications.

The first thing to say is that I applaud Peter Tatchell for having the courage to publicly admit that he'd made an error of judgement. It takes a measure of bravery for an individual to publicly change their mind about something, and in so doing admit that they've been guilty of poor reasoning. Peter Tatchell has proven time and again that he has courage in his convictions (like when he took on Robert Mugabe's security guards), but in my mind it takes even more courage to admit that one of your previously held convictions was wrong and to change it in light of subsequent contemplation.

Tatchell's conclusion was that "it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas".

I wholeheartedly agree with his revised opinion and I'm going to present some examples of why I believe that he is right to say that people should have the legal right to consciously object to replicating language or slogans with which they disagree.


Hypothetical examples are useful for considering the validity and the potential impact of legal rulings. Anyone who supports the Belfast County Court judgement that refusing to bake the cake was discrimination, yet tries to oppose the use of hypothetical examples is treading on very thin ice, given that the Belfast County Court ruling itself relied on the hyporthetical example of a non-gay customer ordering a cake with a non-gay slogan.

The non-gay customer

The Belfast County Court ruling hinged on the hypothetical case of a non-gay cake customer ordering a cake to be decorated with the slogan "support heterosexual marriage". The court concluded that if the bakery would fulfil that order, then they are guilty of discriminating against a gay customer if they refuse to fulfil an order for a "support gay marriage" cake.

In my view this is clearly a faulty example because of the way the slogan on the cake was changed, which altered the whole dynamic of the comparison. It is perfectly possible for a non-gay person to order a "support gay marriage cake" (I'm not gay, I strongly support gay marriage, the only stumbling block is that I'd rather buy my gay friends a couple of beers than a cake with a political slogan on it!). I can see absolutely no legitimate justification for switching the requested slogan and fundamentally changing the nature of the service provided in the hypothetical case.

If only the sexual orientation of the customer is changed and not the cake message, the decision of the baker to not fulfil the order remains the same whoever might order it. The only way in which it can be made to seem that the baker is discriminating against the gay customer is if the slogan on the cake is changed too.

Switching the slogan completely changes the dynamic 
of the comparison because it changes the form of the question from:
Would the bakery render service a for either customer x or customer y
Would the bakery render service a for customer x and service b for customer y?
Switching the wording fundamentally changes the question from "would the bakery render a service they object to for either party?" Into "would the bakery provide a service they object to for one party and a service that they don't object to for another party?"

To me the switching of the message in the hypothetical example was clearly a modification made with the express intention of generating a desired outcome (a guilty verdict).

If it's only by modifying the service provided that any discrimination can be proven, then the ruling is blatantly flawed. If discrimination against the person is to be proven, surely it has to be shown that they were denied a specific service that others have received, not denied a fundamentally different service to what others might receive?

In my view switching the slogan is a clear example of rigging the hypothesis in order to get the desired outcome, and it was done because it was simply impossible to get a guilty verdict if the slogan was not switched.

The Gay baker

Switching the customer (without tampering with the cake slogan) is the key to understanding the crucial legal objection to the ruling. Switching the baker is much more useful for considering the legal ramifications if the appeal against the Belfast County Court is rejected and the principle of the law continues to hold that it is unlawful to conscientiously object to rendering certain statements.

Imagine a gay baker is asked by a religious fanatic to decorate a cake with the slogan "gay love is sinful". Such a statement is obviously distasteful to people who believe in equality, but it's not an unlawful thing to say, so if the Belfast gay cake ruling is allowed to stand, the gay baker must fulfil the order, otherwise he's guilty of religious discrimination. After all, the Belfast County Court ruling establishes the precedent that the meaning of the slogan can be altered to prove discrimination. If the gay baker is prepared to bake a cake that says "gay love is not a sin" for a non-religious customer, then it's discriminatory for him to refuse to bake a "gay love is a sin" cake for a religious fanatic.

In this light the switching of the slogan looks preposterous, and very few people would continue to argue from the slogan-switching standpoint, because the tactic can clearly be used to justify legally compelling a gay baker to fulfil an order for an anti-gay cake.

If you do feel the gay baker should be compelled to fulfil the order for the anti-gay cake it's possible to continue supporting the Belfast County Court ruling that the religious baker should be compelled to fulfil the order for the gay cake. Otherwise, you should now be seriously questioning the Belfast County Court ruling.

If you think it's preposterous to legally compel a gay baker fulfil an order for an anti-gay cake, yet still support the Belfast County Court judgement, it's pretty clear that you don't really care about the logic or the complex legal ramifications of the case, you're simply basing your judgement on your (understandable) sympathy for the gay customer who had his cake order cancelled.

Free speech

If the Belfast County Court ruling is allowed to stand there are clearly lots of legal ramifications that go well beyond the gay rights issue. If the legal precedent is set that service providers can be compelled by customers to render slogans with which they morally disagree, it severely infringes our freedom to conscientiously object to rendering statements that we find objectionable, unethical or repulsive.

The principle of free speech is that we should be free to say whatever we like, as long as it is not prohibited by the law of the land (libel, false advertising, conspiracy, incitement to racial hatred, incitement to terrorism, rape threats etc). In my view the right to free speech also includes the right not to be compelled to say things against our will, and that this right to not say what we disagree with is just as important as our right to say what we do agree with.

The atheist baker and other examples

Should the atheist baker be compelled against their own will to decorate a cake saying "God exists" for a religious customer? If the Belfast County Court ruling is allowed to stand, then they should be made to fulfil the order on the grounds that the service would be provided if the customer is switched to a fellow atheist and the cake message switched to "God doesn't exist".

Should the feminist baker be compelled against their own will to decorate a cake saying "Female genital mutilation is good" for a customer who adheres to a religion that continues with such barbaric practices? If the Belfast County Court ruling is allowed to stand, then they should be made 
to fulfil the order on the grounds that the service would be provided if the customer is switched to a civilised person and the cake message switched to "Female genital mutilation is an abomination".

Should the baker who supports the UK judicial system be compelled against their own will to decorate a cake saying "Sharia law for the UK" for an Islamist fanatic customer? If the Belfast County Court ruling is allowed to stand, then they should be made to fulfil the order on the grounds that the service would be provided if the customer is switched to a fellow supporter of the UK judicial system and the cake message switched to "Stop Sharia law in the UK".

It's clear that if the tactic of switching the message (fundamentally changing the requested service) is allowed, all kinds of utterly perverse judgements become possible.

In my view everyone should have the right to refuse to say/write/render slogans or messages with which they personally disagree. If they wouldn't render that specific message for anybody they are not guilty of discrimination against the client. Demonstrating that the defendant would render a different message for a different client does not prove that they discriminated against the first client at all, it proves that they have discriminated against the message they've been asked to render.

If the Belfast County Court ruling is allowed to stand it sets a woeful precedent that British people do not have the right to conscientiously refuse to communicate certain messages, no matter how much they disagree with them.


If the Belfast County Court ruling is allowed to stand then it has serious ramifications for the publishing industry.

Imagine that the humanist owner of a small copy editing company is asked to copy edit a pamphlet calling for the introduction of strict Sharia law in the UK, and praising practices like beheadings, amputations, crucifictions, whipping and stoning. Should the owner have the right to refuse to fulfil the order out of objection to the contents of the leaflet? There is no law in the UK saying that it's a criminal offence to promote Sharia law or praise the kind of barbarity that is routine in places like Saudi Arabia. So should the copy editor be charged with religious discrimination if he refuses to participate in promoting ideas that he finds utterly repulsive?

If the If the Belfast County Court ruling is allowed to stand then the humanist copy editor should be compelled to copy edit the Sharia law leaflet, given that the service would be provided if the customer was switched to a fellow humanist and the pamphlet switched to one calling for humanist reforms to the UK judicial system and praising humanist practices.

The same scenario could be played out for printers being asked to print distasteful but not unlawful material, and also for publishers and editors who are asked to publish objectionable but not unlawful content.

Should publishing houses, newspapers, magazines, fanzines or websites be compelled to publish content which goes against their ethics on the grounds that they'd publish completely different content for different writers?

In my view it's preposterous to claim that anybody should be legally compelled to replicate slogans or messages with which they disagree, and it should only ever be considered a case of discrimination against the person (rather than the words) if it can be shown that they would replicate the exact same message (provide the same service) for other clients.


Firstly I fundamentally object to the idea of anyone being compelled to replicate messages with which they disagree. Everyone should have the right to conscientiously object to saying/writing/rendering messages that they don't agree with. Even criminals who are accused of the most heinous of crimes have the right to silence.

When it comes to freedom of speech I believe the right to not say what we don't want to say is just as important as the right to say what we do want to say.

Secondly I strongly object to the tactic of switching slogans to "prove" discrimination against the person. Switching slogans fundamentally changes the service provided. Switching slogans does not prove discrimination against the person, it only proves discrimination against the words, which is not, and should never be considered a crime.

If the substitution of alternate phrases to prove discrimination is allowed, then that's an awfully slippery slope leading to situations in which all manner of people and organisations could be compelled into replicating disagreeable content by threat of legal sanction.

Lastly I would like to reiterate that I strongly support gay equality and find religious bigotry utterly appalling. However, the role of the law is not to pick a side and manufacture a judgement in their favour, regardless of the legal repercussions, it is to establish whether an existing law was broken. In my view the deliberate switching of the cake slogans was a crystal clear example of picking a side and manufacturing a verdict regardless of the legal repercussions.

I'm hoping to see a sensible well considered judgement 
from the Court of Appeals to overturn the Belfast County Court ruling, but I'm definitely not counting on it.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.

The Tory fantasy of natural economic justice
The incompatibility of Christian ethics and modern Conservatism
The contrasting fates of Alan Turing and Lord Sempill

Brave New Justice
How the mainstream media frame the political debate
The lamentable decline in the standard of public debate
Why I don't speak for the collective left
Margaret Thatcher's toxic neoliberal legacies

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The lamentable decline in the standard of public debate

For all of its faults during the time of empire, the United Kingdom used to be a thriving hotbed of intellectualism. Not only was the United Kingdom the driver of the industrial revolution, it was also a land of rapid intellectual, scientific and political development. 

These days, as the standard of public debate continues sinking to every more dispiriting lows, I think it's worth looking back and considering how the hell have things gone so wrong.


Its obviously an over-simplification to start at any arbitrary point, but we must start somewhere, so the rise of liberalism in the 17th Century seems as good a point as any. It was from this period onward that the persecution of non-conformism declined dramatically.

In the 17th Century the philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke established the concepts of the social contract and natural rights that gradually eroded the tyranny of the monarcy-state-church nexus.

The English Civil War resulted in the fall of the monarchy, but the powerful political elites who took the place of the monarchy imprisoned and marginalised radicals like John Lilburne ("Freeborn John") and the Levellers to prevent an egalitarian reformation of British society. Despite these efforts by the powerful elites to stamp out political and religious radicalism by persecuting non-conformists like the Levellers, Seekers, Quakers and the Diggers, the unstoppable trend towards liberalism and tolerance of of religious non-conformism had been set in motion.

It was never the case that persecution of non-conformity was eliminated entirely, but from the late 17th Century onwards the people of Great Britain found ever more freedom to express non-conformist political views, and to practice whichever religion they liked, or none at all for that matter. 

Another visionary liberal philosopher to spring up in 17th Century Britain was to inspire the independence revolution in the United States. Thomas Paine's revolutionary essays inspired the movement that excised the monarchy-state-church nexus from vast territories of North America.

The vestiges of the tyrannical monarchy-state-church nexus persist in Britain to this day. The UK state is an anachronism with its monarch serving as joint head of state and head of the established church, its antiquated and unrepresentative electoral system and its unelected religious clerics in its bloated and entirely unelected House of Lords. However the power of the state to silence, imprison and execute critics of the establishment order has been gradually eroded, such that we can publish our republican sentiments, our anti-establishment political views and our non-conformist theological thoughts with little fear of being economically sanctioned, imprisoned or garotted by the monarchy-state-church nexus for airing such views.

The 19th Century heyday

The 19th Century wasn't just the heyday of the industrial revolution, it was an age of rapid public enlightenment and social progress: Libraries, educational institutions and museums sprang up all over the nation; education and basic literacy gradually became the norm rather than the privileges of the wealthy; and barbaric practices like slavery and child labour were abolished.

Against this backdrop of rising standards in literacy and freedom from oppression, Britain played host to an extraordinary array of political movements. Liberals, anarchists, religious non-conformists, Owenites, socialists, communists, libertarians, laissez-faire capitalists, free-thinkers, mutualists and syndicalists all competed for attention from an increasingly literate population.

Non-conformists and hetorodox political thinkers had a much more difficult time on the continent. A look at the lives of many of the most interesting European political thinkers of the age (Proudhon, Bakunin, MichelGalleani, Malatesta, Blanqui ...) reveal lives interrupted by prolonged periods of imprisonment and exile. Britain was not free of political persecution by any stretch of the imagination, however the more liberal environment meant that London became a safe haven for all kinds of heterodox political thinkers including Marx, Engels, Herzen, Mazzini, Kossuth and Kropotkin.

In response to a furious letter from the Spanish embassy decrying Britain for harbouring political exiles in 1871 the British government declared that "all foreigners have an absolute right to enter the country and remain", and that they have the same right as British citizens to be "punished only for offences against the law".

Public intellectuals

The growing tolerance of unorthodox political and religious thought in the United Kingdom led to the rise of countless public intellectuals, many of whom worked to educate the public through the publication of essays and literature and were deeply involved in the political affairs of their age.

It's impossible to provide a definitive list of 19th Century public intellectuals, however naming just a few high profile individuals from the period goes to show how intellectuals were held in high public regard: 
John Stuart Mill, William Morris, George Holyoake, Alfred Russel Wallace, Charles Darwin, Thomas Henry Huxley, Francis Galton, Herbert Spencer, Alfred Marshall, Alexander Graham Bell.

The high public profile accorded to intellectuals continued well into the 20th Century. It's unlikely that anyone but the most determined early-mid 20th Century dullard would have managed to remain completely unaware of the writing and political views of the likes of 
H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, C.S. Lewis, John Maynard Keynes, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley...

The late 20th Century onwards

Who are the great British public intellectuals, philosophers and political theorists of the 21st Century?

There are obviously a great deal of very intelligent people in Britain, who could rightly be considered public intellectuals, however, it seems to me that very few of them have a large enough public profile that they would be recognisable to the majority of people.

Tim Berners-Lee deserves enormous credit for inventing the World Wide Web, but how many people could tell you what he was famous for just from hearing his name or seeing his photograph? The same goes for a number of other modern day intellectuals. What percentage of the general public could even identify the likes of Robert Skidelsky, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Tariq Ali, Susie Orbach, AC Grayling, Andrew Motion, Alan Bennett, Mary Beard or Roger Penrose?

The only high profile public intellectual I'm completely confident that the majority of British people could identify is Stephen Hawking.

When it comes to politics the situation is utterly embarrassing. When a revisionist halfwit like Michael Gove is considered to be one of the great intellectuals of the Tory party, and a the likes of Tristram Hunt and Gordon Brown are lauded as the great intellectuals of the Labour Party we know that we're in trouble. 

Anti-intellectualism and stupification

The United Kingdom has turned from a country that celebrated intellectualism to one that treats it with suspicion and contempt, especially if intellectuals (these days so often prefaced with "so-called" by the tabloid press) dare to voice a political opinion that goes against the established orthodoxy. When people speak out against the right-wing economic orthodoxy that has dominated UK politics for almost four decades, they are hounded by the tabloid press.
In my view an awful lot of public intellectuals are afraid to speak out against the right-wing economic orthodoxy for fear of the abuse they'll suffer from the right-wing press. 

The hounding of public figures who speak out against the orthodoxy is not the only way in which the tabloid press helps to control public debate. Newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Mail are deliberately written in the vocabulary of children in order to make their glib right-wing political tropes accessible to even the least intelligent adults. It's not just conjecture that the tabloid newspapers have contributed to the stupification of the British public either. Research has shown that reading a tabloid newspaper is worse for your vocabulary than not reading a newspaper at all, and that "the presence of tabloid newspapers in the home during childhood has been linked to poor cognitive attainment at age 16".

It's not just the tabloids that are to blame. Generations of politicians have turned the UK education system into an absolute shambles, where children who attend state schools are denied the absolute basics in critical thinking, philosophy and economics and taught that correct answers are handed down to them by authority to be uncritically rote learned and regurgitated upon demand in order to obtain rewards in the form of grades. It obviously makes no sense for the establishment to teach future generations critical thinking skills and basic macroeconomics, otherwise they'd grow up to ask questions and find out that their own rational self-interest is not best served through continued support for an out-of-touch establishment minority that is clearly intent on hoarding political power for their own class and enacting ideologically driven economic policies that enrich the already rich at the expense of everyone else.

The declining standard of political debate

The standard of political debate in the UK continues suffering a steep decline. People seem to no longer even understand the meanings of fundamental political words and phrases. Terms like "communism", "anarchism", "liberalism" and "socialism" have been weaponised, so that simply calling somebody a "communist" is somehow considered sufficient to discredit their entire position, without any obligation for the term communist to even be understood, let alone it be demonstrated that the accused actually subscribes to any of the numerous communist ideologies.

We live in a world where hurling words like "communist" around as if they're crude insults rather than political words with specific meanings or publishing pictures of the opposition leader looking odd while he eats a bacon sandwich are considered dynamite by the political right. Meanwhile many on the left seem to think that simply calling David Cameron a "pigfucker" (instead of criticising any of the countless socially and economically destructive policies Cameron's government have inflicted on the UK) is a debate winning tactic, rather than the kind of crude unsubstantiated assertion that makes the left look like a bunch of ranting extremists.

The rise of someone like David Cameron was pretty much inevitable given the stupification of the electorate. Cameron has proven himself an egregious liar, an abuser of the English language, a snide and manipulative person who refuses to answer direct questions or act in good faith and a coward who is terrified of having to think on his feet (hence his refusals to participate in unscripted public debates). However, despite all of this evidence that David Cameron is a fundamentally dishonest charlatan and clearly the least intellectually capable Prime Minister in living memory, somehow over 11 million people saw fit to actually vote in favour of keeping him in power!

It doesn't matter whether you agreed with the likes of Benjamin Disreali, John Stuart Mill, Winston Churchill, William Beveridge or Clement Attlee, it's pretty much impossible to argue that they were stupid people who just read out a load of scripted nonsense and ran away from any form of actual debate. These were intelligent men of principle who knew what they were talking about and were unafraid of open honest debate.

I'm not Tory but I'm pretty damned sure that the likes of Disreali and Churchill would be utterly appalled that the Conservative party is now being led by such an intellectually stunted, snide and downright dishonest chancer like David Cameron.

What can be done?

It seems that little can actually be done as long as the parliamentary authorities allow David Cameron to continue repeatedly evading questions and blatantly lying to parliament, and as long as the mainstream media refuse to hold David Cameron and the Tories to account for their litany of lies and broken promises to the public.

David Cameron can sign a "contract with the electorate" then simply have every trace of it deleted from the Tory website when it became clear that they'd broken nearly every pledge it contained; he can lie to parliament that the UK has been "bankrupted"; he can lie to the public that the Tories are reducing the national debt (when they've actually created more new debt since 2010 than every Labour government in history combined); he can use all kinds of Orwellian language to claim that black is white and white is black; and he can lie over and over and over again about the leader of the opposition. He can do all of this and get away with it because virtually nobody holds him to account for it.

Even if David Cameron is removed from power, if the means to lie, distort, adopt bad faith positions and spout logical fallacies remains so desperately unchallenged, his successors would be fools to limit themselves to honest, good faith debate.

The poet WH Auden once wrote that "Whatever the field under discussion, those who engage in debate must not only believe in each other's good faith, but also in their capacity to arrive at the truth". Surely nobody believes that it's possible to engage in this kind of honest debate with the likes of David Cameron? Surely nobody believes that David Cameron would voluntarily stick to the truth, argue in good faith or answer direct questions (rather than repeatedly evade them with a load of heavily scripted and largely inaccurate tabloid style rhetoric and snide political point scoring).

Unfortunately, until the public begin to demand a higher level of public debate from their politicians, any politician who does try to adopt the traditional British form of debate (by limiting themselves to 
avoiding lies and smears, arguing in good faith and actually answering the questions they're asked) would be voluntarily tying their hands behind their back while allowing other less scrupulous politicians to repeatedly punch them below the belt to cheers of delight from the tabloid-minded masses.

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The pre-election "contract" the Tories want you to forget
David Cameron's Orwellian word games
Asset stripping "bankrupt" Britain

Dog whistles and dead cats
How the mainstream media frame the political debate
How depraved is David Cameron?
The Tory ideological mission
Margaret Thatcher's toxic neoliberal legacies