Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘liberalism’

The Soul of the Marionette by John GrayThe Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom, John Gray (Penguin 2015)

The philosopher John Gray is an interesting mixture of conservative and liberal, like a cross between Roger Scruton and a Guardian-reader. Like Scruton, he writes well, eschews pretension and offers some good critiques of liberalism. Unfortunately, he shares something else with Scruton: he seems to know very little about human biology and genetics. I’ve never seen him suggest that culture has biological roots, for example, or hint that human beings are more than superficially different. Does he really believe that Icelanders, Somalis and Japanese are part of a single, more or less identical human race?

If he doesn’t, he’s keeping very quiet. Perhaps he’s being prudent. It wouldn’t be good for him to deny the central dogma of modern liberalism: that we’re all the same under the skin. It would distress his many fans in the Guardian-reading community, lose him his reviewing gig at the New Statesman and make it much harder for him to get books published. But something else may stop him publishing books: the passage of time. Like the Oozalum bird, he seems to be moving in ever-decreasing circles and his books are getting shorter and shorter. If he goes on like this, by 2025 he’ll be issuing postcards.

Perhaps he should already be issuing them. If The Soul of the Marionette were a postcard, this is what might be on it:

Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden.

That’s Kant: “From the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing can be made.” I agree with Kant, but I would say that some human timber is crookeder than others. Gray doesn’t say this. He’s got the Guardian-reading community to think of. Instead, he illustrates the imperfectability and illusions of humanity by discussing writers like Heinrich von Kleist, Bruno Schulz, Giacomo Leopardi, Philip K. Dick, Stanislav Lem, Borges, Poe and so on. We think we’re free but we aren’t. Our behaviour has mysterious roots and takes place in an often unknowable world. This emphasis on literature helps explain his appeal to Guardianistas: lit crit is much more to their taste than genetics or neurology. Gray flatters his readers’ intellects without ever discussing the concept of intellect or intelligence.

How are they relevant, after all? We’re all the same under the skin and have been for many millennia. That’s the central dogma of liberalism. In fact, we aren’t the same and big differences between human groups can evolve very quickly. If Gray recognized this, he would have even stronger reason to attack the illusions of men like George Bush, Tony Blair and the neo-conservatives, who thought that democracy could be brought to the Middle East using violence. For example, he wrote a mordantly funny “Modest Proposal” in defence of torture, which was collected in Gray’s Anatomy (2010). There’s nothing as powerful as that here, but I think the writing is better here. The ideas are often vague but always interesting and you’ll want to try the authors he discusses, if you haven’t already. All the same, I would prefer more genetics and less lit crit.

His Guardianista fans wouldn’t like more genetics, but that’s precisely why I would. Prominent among the distressed Guardianistas would be Will Self. He’s one of those thanked at the end of this book for “conversations that stirred the thoughts” that went into it. Self’s friendship with Gray, like Self’s friendship with J.G. Ballard, is a worrying sign to me. It’s also puzzling. Gray thanks Nassim Taleb at the end of the book too. How is possible for him to take both those men seriously? Taleb is a highly intelligent and interesting writer. Self is a tedious charlatan. He’s also full of liberal illusions about the unity of humanity and the benefits of mass immigration. If Gray is still writing books in 2025, I hope Self is no longer a fan of his. I certainly think the illusions of Self will have been even more starkly exposed by then.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Lost Stolen or Shredded by Rick GekoskiLost, Stolen or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature, Rick Gekoski (Profile Books 2013/2014)

In her hilarious hatchet-job on her departed idol Susan Sontag, the lesbian academic Terry Castle describes the “relentless quizzing” she underwent in the “early days” of their friendship:

I almost came a cropper when I confessed I had never listened to Janáček’s The Excursions of Mr Broucek. She gave me a surprised look, then explained, somewhat loftily, that I owed it to myself, as a ‘cultivated person’, to become acquainted with it. (‘I adore Janáček’s sound world.’) A recording of the opera appeared soon after in the mail – so I knew I’d been forgiven – but after listening to it once I couldn’t really get anywhere with it. (It tends to go on a bit – in the same somewhat exhausting Eastern European way I now associate with Sontag herself.) (“Desperately Seeking Susan”, London Review of Books, 17th March 2005)

In other words: Sontag was a gasbag. And is there a sulphurous whiff of antisemitism in the phrase “Eastern European”? I fear so. I also fear that this book tends to go on a bit à la Janáček and Sontag. Which was a disappointment. I would like to have read it properly, but I couldn’t: like The Hitch, Rick Gekoski, who has a D.Phil. on Joseph Conrad, doesn’t use English as though it is his mother-tongue. Which is a pity. There are some interesting topics here, from the “carbonized” but still legible papyri in an ancient library at Herculaneum, which were bequeathed to posterity by the eruption of Vesuvius, to the richly jewelled cover of a “bookbinding executed in 1911” for Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which was lost with the Titanic. Plus the alleged “wanking fantasies” in Philip Larkin’s diaries, which were destroyed on Larkin’s own instructions after his death.

There are also some Guardianista topics: the book is based on a series on BBC Radio 4, like Gekoski’s earlier (and better) Tolkien’s Gown and Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books (2005). And so there are constant references to the Holocaust and to white man’s inhumanity to non-white man, like African blacks and the Māori. There is also a lot about giants of European culture whom I don’t like: Joyce, Mahler, Kafka, Conrad and so on. True, I agree with Gekoski when he says, in the chapter about the looting of Iraqi antiquities, that Donald Rumsfeld was “indefatigably loathsome”, but I’m rather worried that I do. And I don’t like that way of putting it. Christopher Hitchens might have put it like that, though not, in his later days, about Rumsfeld. Gekoski is a successful book-dealer and knows a lot about art and literature. I just wish he could convey what he knows more elegantly and concisely.

Read Full Post »

Readers’ advisory: Contains plot-spoilers and a Nietzsche quote.

Crude, clichéd, but compelling. That’s how I’d describe Michael Connelly’s crime novels. And they’re sometimes clever too. His chief character is a Hiero for our times: jazz-loving Vietnam-vet loner Harry Bosch, a maverick murder detective fighting the flood of evil and horror in Los Angeles. The Bosch books are L.A.P.D. noir – very noir, as Bosch’s full name suggests: Hieronymus Bosch. His unmarried prostitute mother, who was raped and murdered while he was still a boy, named him after the proto-surreal Dutch apocalypticist. The books are also L.A.P.D. P.C. – very P.C. But not very original in their P.C. A sure way to spot a bad lad in a Bosch book is that he uses racist language or expresses racist ideas. This is Bosch’s senior officer, Lieutenant Pounds, visiting a crime scene in South Central L.A.:

There was still a lot of debris in the building’s shell. Charred ceiling beams and timber, broken concrete block and other rubble. Pounds caught up with Bosch and they began carefully stepping through to the gathering beneath the tarp.

“They’ll bulldoze this and make another parking lot,” Pounds said. “That’s all the riots gave the city. About a thousand new parking lots. You want to park in South Central these days, no problem. You want a bottle of soda or to put gas in your car, then you got a problem. They burned every place down. You drive through the South Side before Christmas? They got Christmas tree lots every block, all the open space down there. I still don’t understand why those people burned their own neighborhoods.”

Bosch knew that the fact people like Pounds didn’t understand why “those people” did what they did was one reason they did it, and would have to do it again someday. Bosch looked at it as a cycle. Every twenty-five years or so the city had its soul torched by the fires of reality. But then it drove on. Quickly, without looking back. Like a hit-and-run. (The Concrete Blonde, 1994, ch. 2)

Are you surprised to hear that Pounds meets a bad end? A writer is like a god, creating and controlling a world of his own, and he can ensure that blasphemers like Pounds are punished as they deserve to be. And all too often aren’t in real life, alas: blacks are still groaning under racist oppression not just in Los Angeles but in the U.S. as a whole. Sooner or later, as Bosch sadly but wisely foresees, they “will have” to burn “their own neighborhoods” again.

Which will make their problems worse. But what choice do they have? Blacks aren’t fully human and don’t have free will, intelligence, or reason like whites. That, at least, is what racists think. Racists like Pounds? No, racists like Harry Bosch and his creator Michael Connelly. Think about what is really going on in the passage I quote above. Pounds is puzzled by the arson because it was stupid, irrational, and malign. In other words, his premise is that blacks are intelligent, rational and benign people. The arson of the L.A. riots appears to contradict that premise, so Pounds is puzzled.

Bosch, on the other hand, looks “at it as a cycle”, a natural rhythm of black behaviour. They’re oppressed, so they react by making things worse for themselves. Bosch and his creator are actually white male supremacists, but then that’s because they’re liberals. If you listen to what liberals say, you’ll think that they believe in human equality: that we’re all the same under the skin, regardless of race, sex, sexuality, disability, or any other irrelevant externality-issue factor. If you watch what liberals do, however, you’ll realize that they don’t believe in human equality at all. Liberalism secretly operates on the principle that only one group is fully human. Which group is it? White heterosexual able-bodied males, or WHAMs.

In liberalism, only WHAMs have free will and only WHAMs can be blamed for bad behaviour. They oppress everyone else; everyone else is oppressed by them. That’s why it’s so important to criticize WHAMs, take power off them, and punish them for their sins. They could choose good; instead, they choose evil. But when blacks commit arson, loot, and murder large numbers of people, as they did in the L.A. riots, no blame attaches to them. It’s a cycle, a natural rhythm, as mindless and irrational as an earthquake or hurricane. When blacks misbehave, they’re not to blame. The real immorality is committed by WHAMs like Pounds, who don’t “understand why ‘those people’ did what they did”. But this dichotomy contradicts the official liberal line on human nature: that we’re all the same under the skin and any group is capable of doing anything done by any other group.

For example, the Jewish-American scientist Jared Diamond argues in Guns, Germs and Steel (1997) that European and Asian achievements are entirely owed to geography, not at all to genetics. Blacks in Africa were just as capable of building cathedrals, inventing gunpowder, or landing on the moon, but they weren’t living in the right environment. Note where Diamond’s reasoning also leads: it means that blacks were just as capable of conquering and oppressing whites as vice versa. It’s just an accident of history that whites had black slaves and are still preventing blacks from realizing their gigantic potential. We’re all the same under the skin, so if the geographic dice had rolled differently, the tables would have been turned: blacks would have enslaved whites and would now be preventing whites from realizing their potential. Harry Bosch could have been black, named after a black artistic genius, and L.A. could have been full of poor, downtrodden whites oppressed by a non-white elite. The same goes for all other forms of oppression and bigotry. WHAMs have used their power to oppress non-WHAMs, but non-WHAMs are just as capable of being oppressors, when they get the chance. That is the clear logic of liberal dogma on human nature.

How often do you hear liberals point that logic out? I’ve never heard them point it out at all, because they don’t really believe it. Their aim is not to end injustice against non-WHAMs but to induce guilt in WHAMs, whether it’s deserved or not. But even if it is deserved, it can’t be culpable, if we follow the logic of “We’re All the Same under the Skin”. If liberal ideology is correct, it’s absurd for liberals to be self-righteous and indignant about racism, sexism, homophobia, and other evil WHAM prejudices. We’re all essentially the same, so we’re all potential oppressors and it’s merely chance that group W is oppressing groups X, Y, and Z. But have you ever heard liberals say that? No, they always blame wilful evil by group W, and seem to think that X, Y, and Z, by virtue of being oppressed, have some special saintly status. They can’t have, if liberal dogma is correct. It isn’t, but liberals don’t believe in it anyway: dogma is for preaching, not for practising. The truth is that liberalism, like the overt religions it so often criticizes, isn’t really out to achieve its loudly proclaimed goals. It isn’t really about ending oppression and injustice: it’s about gaining power and money by inducing guilt and censoring dissent. Those who complain most loudly about injustice are often those who are most eager to practice it:

If the suffering and oppressed lost the faith that they have the right to despise the will to power, they would enter the phase of hopeless despair. This would be the case if this trait were essential to life and it could be shown that even in this will to morality this very “will to power” is hidden, and even this hatred and contempt were still a will to power. The oppressed would come to see that they were on the same plain as the oppressors, without prerogative, without higher rank. (The Will to Power, Book One: European Nihilism, #55, translated by Walter Kaufmann)

Also sprach – thus spoke – Friedrich Nietzsche, a WHAM from the nineteenth century who remains one of the best and most acute critics of the self-contradictions, absurdities, and evils of liberalism, of whatever variety: the genuine variety, as preached by benevolent men like John Stuart Mill in the 19th century, or the crypto-Marxist variety, as preached by malevolent women like Hillary Clinton in the 21st.

I call Hillary “malevolent” because I’m an evil anti-liberal WHAM, of course. As a liberal WHAM, Michael Connelly does not believe in wilful female malevolence. Female misbehaviour, like black misbehaviour, is really the fault of WHAMs. At least, that was the line he plugged for many years. A wilfully malevolent female has finally turned up in one of his books, but you won’t need to told what race she is. She is certainly not a “sister”, literal or otherwise, of Kizmin “Kiz” Rider, the black lesbian detective who partners Bosch in Trunk Music (1997) and Angels Flight (1999). Rider has “grown up in south L.A.” and, because she combines three richly vibrant strands of non-WHAM-ness, she doesn’t stay long in the murder squad. She’s head-hunted by the Chief’s office, though she continues to help Bosch in his struggle against WHAM evil.

But Rider does offer strong hints that Connelly isn’t a fully orthodox liberal. For example, she gets herself shot and wounded by a serial killer in Angels Flight and she’s become too tied to the L.A.P.D. bureaucracy in The Drop (2011). Bosch is disappointed in her, though he does recognize that she’s been corrupted by a white system. And the serial killer who shot her is white, of course: Connelly is fully orthodox in never admitting that WHAMs are actually under-represented in serial killing, not the reverse. However, hints of his heterodoxy are apparent again in Jerry Edgar, another of Bosch’s black partners. In The Black Echo (1992), the first book in the Bosch series, Edgar is more attached to his part-time estate-agency work than he is to solving murders. Unlike Bosch, he doesn’t have “a wire in the blood” that drags him to devote his life to fighting the WHAM evil that ravages the world. He doesn’t think that “everybody counts or nobody counts” and, unlike Bosch, who’s driven on by memories of his mother’s death, he won’t devote as much effort to the murder of a homeless drug-addict as to the murder of a high-powered lawyer or city-councillor. He even ends up betraying Bosch and passing information about one of their cases to a journalist on the L.A. Times.

After those two black partners, both of whom fall short of their mentor’s standards, Bosch has a Hispanic-American partner, Ignacio “Iggy” Ferras, in The Overlook (2007), The Brass Verdict (2008), and 9 Dragons (2009). He has a Chinese-American partner, David Chu, in 9 Dragons and The Drop. But Kiz Rider re-appears in The Drop to be told something decidedly heterodox about the Rodney King beating, the appalling act of WHAM evil that caused the L.A. riots. Although Rider is black, she’s also a policewoman, so Bosch feels able to take a pro-police line on the beating. The L.A.P.D., he points out, had previously relied on choke-holds to subdue violent suspects quickly and effectively. But choke-holds were killing too many blacks, liberals said, and they were complaining more and more loudly about police racism. Bosch describes the consequences of their compassion and concern:

“…the department then told the officers to rely more on their batons… Added to that, Tasers were coming into use just as the choke hold went out. And what did we get? Rodney King. A video that changed the world. A video of a guy being tased and whaled on with batons when a proper choke hold would’ve just put him to sleep.”

“Huh,” Rider said. “I never looked at it that way.” (Op. cit., pp. 173-4)

Many liberal readers of the Bosch books will never have looked at it that way either. But those hints of heterodoxy are rare: in the main, Connelly and his characters are fully orthodox. In the chaotic world of Harry Bosch, few things are certain. Death is one. WHAM evil is another. A third is: ethnic minorities never ever ever commit sex-crimes, let alone sex-crimes of a particularly violent and unpleasant kind. If a black or Hispanic is charged with a rape-murder in a Connelly book, you can be certain that a horrendous miscarriage of justice is under way and that Bosch or Micky Haller, Bosch’s lawyer half-brother and star of his own series, will be riding to the rescue.

But by following that liberal line on sex-crime and miscarriages of justice, Connelly is again being a white male supremacist. The active, interesting roles – those of sex-slayer and injustice-overturner – are taken by WHAMs. The passive, accidental role – the poor shmuck whom the racist WHAM system found in the wrong place at the wrong time – is taken by a non-WHAM. Black ’bangas and Hispanic homies are minor characters in a drama that centres on Bosch or Haller. Non-WHAMs suffer from evil, but they don’t create it or fight it the way WHAMs do. Nor do black lesbians like Kiz Rider. Although she lets Bosch down by getting too close to the L.A.P.D. bureaucracy, she isn’t responsible for its machinations. No, WHAMs like Irvine Irving are. He’s the Machiavellian Deputy Chief of Police Bosch clashes with repeatedly until Irving is hoist on his own petard and forced to retire at the end of The Closers (2005). He then becomes a city-councillor and in The Drop he’s putting his Machiavellian skills to work against the L.A.P.D. rather than for it. I suspect that Connelly is orchestrating the Bosch series towards what will be, for Bosch, a shattering revelation: that Irving, who knew Bosch’s prostitute-mother as a beat-officer, is his real father, not the famous attorney whom Bosch has recognized as such till now.

Whether or not that proves true, the way Connelly develops his characters is one of the things I admire about his books: despite the occasionally clumsy prose, Bosch seems to inhabit a real world with real people in it, including him. The Bosch who began the series in 1992 is not the same as the Bosch who continues it in 2012. He’s older, greyer, more scarred, and with more unhappy romantic history behind him. He also had a history when he began the series in The Black Echo: losing his mother as a boy, he went from a series of children’s homes and foster-families into the army, which sent him to fight in Vietnam as one of the “tunnel rats”, the soldiers who went into the tunnel-network dug by the Viet Cong. Connelly acknowledges two more compelling authors at the beginning of The Black Echo: “Tom Mangold and John Pennycate, whose book The Tunnels of Cu Chi tells the real story of the tunnel rats of the Vietnam war.” Fighting underground like that took a special kind of personality and a special kind of physique. Bosch is slight but strong and wiry, not big and muscle-bound, and he has balls of steel. He puts his wiry strength to work occasionally in the books, but only against other WHAMs. He puts his balls to work too, but only with WHAFs. One of the WHAFs bears him a daughter, but he doesn’t learn about this till a later book.

By then, Bosch fans will already know that Connelly has an interest in both pornography and paedophilia. He wouldn’t be writing about those things so often otherwise. Indeed, he occasionally combines the two interests and writes about kiddie porn. The murder-victim in The Concrete Blonde is a porn-actress called Magna Cum Loudly and Bosch has to enter the seedy and sleazy world of L.A.’s adult porn industry to track down her WHAM killer. Kiddie porn turns up in both City of Bones (2002) and Angels Flight (1999). In the latter, circumstantial evidence implicates a black petty criminal in a paedophile sex-murder, but he didn’t do it, of course. The victim turns out to be have been pimped out on-line by her WHAM father.

Is there no end to WHAM evil? Not in the Bosch books, but I do sometimes have to wonder about what is going on in the depths of Connelly’s mind. Bosch discovers he has a beautiful young daughter in Lost Light (2003), but in 9 Dragons she’s living an ocean away in Hong Kong with her mother, the ex-FBI agent Eleanor Wish. However, Wish is killed off before the end of that book and Bosch is living alone with his daughter in The Drop. Can you say Lolita? If you can, I wonder if Connelly’s subconscious is saying it too. Lolita (1955) was another study of WHAM evil and I found myself unable to re-read it when I tried it again recently. It got too yucky. I’ve found the same with some of Connelly’s books, both ones with Bosch and ones without him. Or ones that don’t centre on him, because his characters wander in and out of each other’s series. It’s an interesting way for Connelly to shift perspective and compare and contrast his own creations. Bosch is big in his own series, but sometimes peripheral elsewhere. One of the best Connelly books may be in the shortest series: the two books devoted to the crime-reporter Jack McEvoy, The Poet (1996) and The Scarecrow (2009). The latter was one of the books I couldn’t finish when I tried it again. A dumb black ’banga is charged with a gruesome sex-murder, but surprise, surprise: the murder was really committed by a WHAM serial killer with a leg-iron fetish and a very high IQ. The Poet I could finish when I tried it again. It’s gruesome too, but I liked its clever plot and its use of Edgar Allan Poe.

I also liked the clever plot of Blood Work (1998), a non-Bosch which is the only book I’ve ever felt compelled to re-read immediately I had finished it. The twist at the end of the book cast everything that happened before it into a new light, so I was almost experiencing a different book when I read it again. That is good writing and Connelly deserves his huge success, though I don’t think he would have been allowed to have it if he hadn’t toed the liberal line from the very beginning. I don’t like the fact that Connelly is a liberal, but I do think there’s hope for him. And I definitely admire his ability to produce interesting books at a rate of more than one a year since 1992. When The Black Box is published later this month (November 2012), it will be the seventeenth Bosch book and the twenty-sixth of Connelly’s crime-novels altogether. They’re sometimes crude, sometimes contrived, but usually compelling and often clever too. He’s wrong to slam so relentlessly on WHAMs, but coming events will show him the error of his ways. And slamming WHAMs is a tribute to their importance: whether he knows it or not, Connelly has always been a white male supremacist. Harry Bosch, like the painter he was named after, is an example of why WHAMs matter, why they’re so envied and hated, and why liberalism, with the help of many WHAMs, is so desperate to do them down.

Read Full Post »

You want literary trangression? I’ve recently come across something that puts everything else into the shade. Sade’s Sodom? Soppy! Aldapuerta’s Eyes? Infantile! Britton’s Basted in the Broth of Billions? Fuck off and diet! The most powerfully nauseating piece of prose I’ve ever read is this:

Emery’s life-partner, Laney, is HIV positive. Laney and Emery are proud to be a serodiscordant couple. Through diligent safe-sex practices, Emery has remained HIV negative since becoming Laney’s partner in 2005.

That is part of the potted biography of Emery Emery (sick), an American “stand-up comedian” who is one of the many contributors to The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, edited by Ariane Sherine. If you don’t find it nauseating too, either you’re a Guardianista or you have no aesthetic sense. For smarminess, sliminess and sheer self-fellating self-righteousness, I have never seen its equal, despite my diligent liberal-prose-reading practices since well before 2005. Okay, I expected this book to make my flesh crawl – after all, David Baddiel is in it – but Emery surprised even a H8-positive homo-negativist like me. But I wasn’t surprised that the editrix of the book “writes regularly for The Guardian”. Or that she and her close-knit contributional community “have donated their full share of the profits from this book to the Terrence Higgins Trust”, “the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity.”

You would expect that sort of piety from deeply devout atheists like Richard Dawkins, whose quarrel is not with religion as such: it’s with the wrong kind of religion. His own religion, liberalism, has its own sacred cows and its own pious rituals, like the ostentatious donation of money to AIDS charities. But I wonder what Dawkins and other liberal atheists would think about AIDS if it didn’t differentially impacticize a Minority Community sacred to their faith. What if it had a much higher prevalence among fundamentalist Christians than among gays, for example? I find it impossible to believe that liberal atheists wouldn’t draw uncomfortable conclusions for Christianity, if that were the case.

As it is, Dicky Dawkins & Co. use AIDS to bash the bishops only because bishops oppose the use of condoms, not because bishops die of AIDS very often. Heads atheism wins, tails Christianity loses. And Christianity is the overwhelming target of liberal atheists in the West. At least one of the contributors is highly positive about another religion. The eminently emetic David Baddiel says this in his potted bio:

Born and raised Jewish, and maintaining a deep affection for his Jewish heritage and identity, David’s Facebook religious views entry describes him as a “fundamentalist atheist”.

The grammar and punctuation there are as skilful as Baddiel’s comedy, but then this porn-positive performer does have an EngLit degree, with all that that implies in terms of issues around issues of good prose. It might seem odd that a “fundamentalist atheist” can have a “deep affection” for a religious tradition, but it isn’t really odd at all, I would suggest. I can imagine another contributor having a “deep affection” for his Hindu or black “heritage and identity”, but not for his Catholic or Methodist. And there’s no way on earth a contributor would express affection for his “white heritage and identity”. That would be blasphemy in excelsis. But Baddiel’s h-and-i aren’t Christian: he isn’t anti-God, he’s anti-Son-of-God. His quarrel, like Dawkins’, isn’t with religion: it’s with the wrong kind of religion. Although I am an atheist (I won’t say “too”), I prefer the religion that gave birth to Milton and Tennyson over the religion that gave birth to Marx and Trotsky.

Perhaps Baddiel studied Milton during his EngLit degree. If so, there’s little sign of it in his dreary “An Atheist at the Movies”, simul-scribed with one Arvind Ethan David, whose potted bio also attributes supernatural powers to something inanimate: “Born and raised Catholic, Arvind’s Facebook religious views entry reads ‘Atheist. Humanist. Yogi. Bear.’” Which is a crap joke, but funnier than Dicky Dawkins’ contribution, “The Great Bus Mystery”, which proves once again that Dawkins should stick strictly to biology:

I was hoofing it down Regent Street, admiring the Christmas decorations, when I saw the bus. One of those bendy buses that mayors keep threatening with the old heave-ho. As it drove by, I looked up and got the message square in the monocle. You could have knocked me down with the proverbial. Another of the blighters nearly did knock me down as I set a course for the Dregs, where it was my purpose to inhale a festive snifter, and I saw the same thing on the side.

That’s the start of Dawkins’ would-be Wodehousean, wanna-be Woosterian story based on an advert run on the sides of London buses: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” One way to enjoy life is to read P.G. Wodehouse, who, after an Anglican upbringing and education, wrote sunny, gentle, life-affirming humour for many years. Whether he’d have done the same after a Catholic or Muslim upbringing, I’m not sure. Sunny, gentle and life-affirming are not good ways to describe the best atheist humorist in this book: Charlie Brooker, the Guardian’s Wizard of Wind Up and Magus of Misanthropy. Scabrous, genital-obsessed and life-denying would be closer. Brooker doesn’t shed rainbows: he squirts bile. And I doubt he’ll keep it up for decades. Not successfully, anyway, but that may be because, unlike Wodehouse, he’s a Committed Cultist with a Pious Purpose: to mock and ridicule all True Faiths but his own. Brooker’s True Faith is liberalism: like everyone else here, he’s part of the highly conformist non-conformist community. This is the conclusion of his sermonette:

Laughter separates us from the gods while binding us closer together. If you’re looking for a miracle, look no further that your most recent belly laugh. Maybe a friend made you clutch your sides till you shook with glee; maybe an old episode of Frasier had you howling on the carpet. Either way: in that moment you were immortal. And that, my friend, is as sacred as it gets.

It’s also as uplifting as it gets, for Brooker. No wonder liberals are in a demographic death-spiral. If Frasier is the liberal justification for existence, the conclusion they reach seems to be: the fewer children we have, the better. And note that the steely-eyed and cynical Brooker appears to understand the sadistic and thought-policing role of humour as little as Richard Dawkins understands the sociological role of religion. Brooker’s contribution is in the “Philosophy” section of this book, where you’ll also find the bleatings of the execrable A.C. Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birbeck College in London. If, like me, you think that 95% of philosophers are 99% twat, Grayling isn’t going to make you think again. Like David Baddiel’s comedy, Grayling’s prose is excellent propaganda for the theistic cause:

For Christmas-disliking folk, the dream is a Christmas spent in a warm country where they do not celebrate Christmas. They would revel in the absence of Christmas music, decorations and symbols, together with exhortations to spend money on trivia, ephemera and excessive quantities of food and drink. They would be refugees from iterated “Jingle Bells” and other carols that play on a loop in every department store, driving the staff mad… No such escape is available to those with young children, for whom Christmas is a bonanza of acquisitiveness and indulgence, and yet to whom we all wish to give the traditional experience of acquisitiveness and indulgence. It is in large part because of our children that Christmas has accumulated its hybrid and generally over-the-top contemporary form, together with its sentimentality and excesses. It has become a piety to approve of this, so that to call it into question is to invite being called a Scrooge or worse.

As usual, Grayling sounds like a dim vicar preaching a boring sermon. The “Science” section of the book is more intellectually rigorous, but not much more convincing. You’ve seen part of Dawkins’ effort and it doesn’t get any better than that. Simon Singh sings a psalm to science in “The Sound of Christmas”. I’d rather hear a real psalm. Brian Cox tries to big-up “The Large Hadron Collider”, but I think the Middle Ages spent its money better in building cathedrals. They’re certainly better to look at and easier to understand, but then part of the appeal of atheism to liberals is its intellectual elitism and epistemological rigour. Or so they fondly imagine. I suspect G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis will prove far better and wiser guides to life, politics and culture than anyone here.

Like the old religions, the new religion of liberal atheism is mostly overseen by men, but the book’s editrix, Ariane Sherine, does provide a useful visual guide to two of the key core components of liberalism: its narcissism and its autolatry. For the inside back cover she poses in tight jeans and a tight, white “There’s Probably No God” T-shirt, displaying her slim and attractive body for the edification of the faithless. The flesh is important to people who don’t believe in the soul. But those who live by the flesh often also die by it, as AIDS proves. Nor is Christianity to blame for anorexia, self-harm and “raunch culture”. As Christianity is increasingly pushed out of public life and porn is increasingly pushed in, I think there’s good reason to wonder whether secularism is good for women. Islam certainly isn’t good for women, but none of the atheists here do anything effective to oppose Islam’s increasing presence and power in the West. They’ll kick Christianity till the sacred cows come home, but grow curiously muted in the presence of the mullahs. Or not so curiously, given what can happen to the critics of Islam. Religions are not all the same and not all equally harmful. I think that the overt religion of Anglicanism is much less harmful than the covert religion of liberalism, for example. Unbelievers aren’t all the same any more than believers are. I’m an atheist, but I think The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas was written by idiots for idiots. It’s smug and smarmy, mawkish and maudlin. It’s desperately jaunty and jauntily desperate. I’m almost inclined to thank God that Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens didn’t contribute to it too. If this book were the worst liberal atheism can do, the religious would have nothing to fear.

Unfortunately, it isn’t the worst liberal atheism can do. The atheidiots here aren’t confined between its covers: they’re all over British public life and influencing public policy in all sorts of ways. The Church of England puts up no resistance to their societal subversion and sapping: nowadays, it’s part of the liberal suicide-cult too. A good way to understand life is to read one of Richard Dawkins’ books on biology. A good way to enjoy life is to avoid one of his attempts at humour. Avoid David Baddiel’s attempts too. In fact, avoid David Baddiel altogether: his appearance, tone and manner don’t so much weaken the case for a benevolent God as strengthen the case for a malevolent Satan. Charlie Brooker is an eyesore too, but he can be funny. Not in a sunny Wodehousean way, though. And he isn’t funny here. Nor is anyone else. Where liberal atheists and atheist liberals are taking the West will definitely prove funny. But I suspect none of the people here will be laughing.

Read Full Post »